Tuesday, April 26, 2011


In Why We Make Mistakes , I have a little fun pointing out how often people fail to follow the instructions that come with a variety of products, from nail guns to car seats. But if you want an even scarier example, check out today's story in The Wall Street Journal on drug labeling.

Drug labels are notoriously hard to read -- and often confusing for those who do read them. Not surprisingly, as many as three in four Americans say they don't take prescription medicine as directed. And in recent studies, more than half of adults misunderstood one or more common prescription warnings and precautions.

Often, this leads to a trip to the hospital. Nearly 1.9 million people were treated in hospitals for illnesses and injuries from taking medicines -- a 52% increase from 2004 to 2008.

One cure for confusion, of course, is simplicity. And one study shows -- what a shock! -- that patients better understood simple, explicit language. For example, "use only on your skin" is better understood than "for external use only."

So before you grab that bottle of pills, take some time to check the label.

Labels: , ,


Blogger Ann said...

I read a really good book called, Glimmer: How Design Can Transform Your Life and Maybe Even the World by Warren Berger and Bruce Mau that was about designing things that solve problems and making them so that their use was elegant and intuitive.

They had a great look at a designer named Deborah Adler who's working on just this sort of thing. She started working with medicine packaging after her grandmother took her grandfather's medication by accident. You can check her website here (http://www.deborahadlerdesign.com/casestudy/) Both case studies are REALLY fascinating.

May 3, 2011 at 5:38 AM  
Blogger cookie said...

If we have come to the point in society that we have to clarify "use on your skin" instead of "external use only", we deserve the consequences of our actions. The Dumbing Down of America is strong and in full swing.

June 21, 2011 at 5:54 AM  
Blogger Drew Byrne said...

With all the confusion over taking drugs it's a wonder people ever even bother: As they say in Australia (where they read everything of importance upside down: "Read: the erections' first, stupid!"

September 1, 2013 at 3:54 AM  
Blogger Drew Byrne said...

I sincerely suspect that there are some very stupid people about: people who are prime candidates for making dumb, ignorant mistakes every day of their lives. Like the other day when I was in the local Pound shop buying some Twiglets, etc. This old woman standing next to the bottled water shelf and holding a small 500ml bottle of mineral water in her hand (and whom I hadn’t previously noticed) says to me, “How much?” And of course, I being the helpful chap I am, helped her. Not that she was anything to look at, mind you; she being well over the hill, and even when young probably never got a second look. And on top of that she was a foreigner, some kind of East European: usually (or nowadays), they being people whom come to my country via truck imported through the Channel Tunnel, or on the ferries. But anyway, to the point: Being a helpful chap, I pointed out the sign on the shelf (one clearly marked in capitals) and said, “Four for a Pound.” She must have had some difficulty with the language as well though (and she obviously being illiterate (in English anyway, which I understand)), or else she was as deaf as a post, as she just stood there doing nothing and giving me a blank look. So I moved three of these small bottles into a group on the shelf and said again, for emphasis: “Look, three of these, plus the one you’re holding, is four: four for a Pound.” Obviously, she couldn’t read numerals either, or prices, as they were marked up clearly enough, but she still couldn’t understand me, as she then managed to say in broken English: “How much for one?” Now, see, there is no excuse, as it was all clearly marked out there on the shelf: four for a Pound, and 29p for one (or for a single bottle, if you wish). I just don’t understand foreigners who come to my country, why can’t they just learn to read numbers at least, and stop asking silly questions of busy people like me? But anyway, eventually I managed to make her understand that the price of the one she was holding was clearly marked on the shelf, and so that was that. However, whispering under my breath, I mumbled to myself, “It just goes to show you: it’s wise to listen to what people are saying before you answer them.” Clearly, it diminishes the chances of making clumsy errors on their part, and it certainly makes things much clearer to you when you deal with complete strangers like that, wherever you come across them.

September 8, 2013 at 5:41 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home